LUTZ -- On a practice field located a hard spiral from the Suncoast Parkway, Steinbrenner's players paid an altogether different kind of toll last week.
A series of sprints across the field, followed by up-downs and push-ups. Then more sprints, segueing smack into intense work in goal-line and two-minute situations.
And this was the Warriors' bye week. After Monday's practice, Coach Floyd Graham assembled his players around him and reiterated why he had gone all boot-camp on them.
"This is definitely the biggest game this school has ever faced," said Graham, whose third-year program plays at Class 7A, District 7 rival Gaither (2-2, 1-0) on Thursday. "We're in the driver's seat for our district, and whether we wreck or not is in our control."
Only two autumns after a winless -- and often hopeless -- inaugural season, the Warriors (3-1, 1-0) can take a huge step toward the program's first playoff berth with a victory Thursday.
"I think we're all excited," said senior CB Danny Fernandez, whose third-quarter 24-yard interception return for a TD sealed a 13-6 win against Freedom two Fridays ago.
"It's starting to hit us that we can actually get the job done to make the playoffs, and it's all starting now."
Though most of the faces from that 2009 squad remain, the Warriors possess a completely different look emotionally, physically and statistically. Count the last two games of the '10 season, and Steinbrenner has won five of its last six contests. A bulk of this year's success can be attributed to a defense allowing slightly more than a touchdown a game.
"We've certainly matured," third-year two-way lineman Alex Vega said.
To quantify further, take a look at the following comparisons between Graham's current squad and his first one.
Through 4 Games '09 '11
Record (varsity games only) 0-4 3-1
Points allowed 173 30
Players who bench press 225 0 40 (app.)
Seniors on roster 0 21